After the manor of the defeat against Nottingham Forest on Saturday, Tuesday’s clash with Barnsley could, in the eyes of some, determine the fate of our season.
Both the management and the players have continually stressed the importance of time in the transition towards a new style of play. The general feeling after the Bristol City game was that Blues were on the right track – four points from a possible six against two tough teams.
Despite a positive opening 15 minutes against Forest, who else but Joe Lolley opened the scoring for the home side. The goal scorer turned creator seven minutes letter, setting up Lewis Grabban to double their lead.
Lapses of concentration and basic errors left us a mountain to climb in the second half. We were unable to overturn a two-goal deficit like Forest did in this fixture last season, with Michael Dawson sealing all three points for the East Midlands side in the 65th minute.
The poor defensive display coupled with a lack of creativity was worrying. In our three league games this season, we’ve only had six shots on target. Che’s ability to turn a defender and create something out of nothing is sorely missing.
Villalba and Crowley are technically gifted players, but Juke looked isolated up front on Saturday. I don’t think it’s fair to rate Gimenez after only playing 30 minutes, but our inability to land a striker like Puscas, who scored twice for Reading on Sunday, could severely cost us.
The Forest game was reminiscent of the League Cup game against Portsmouth: Blues got off to a positive start, created a couple of chances, conceded two quick goals and a third in the second half, and never really looked like scoring.
After the game on Saturday, Pep repeated his need for time. Looking at social media, it appears many fans aren’t impressed, and are already preparing for life in League One next season.
A win, a draw and a loss is by no means a terrible start to the season. Villalba, Crowly and Sunjic have all been thrown into the squad since arriving at St Andrews, and it will take Pep a bit of time to get everyone up to speed.
Onward to Barnsley
Many fans of Brentford, Bristol City and Nottingham Forest will see themselves as promotion contenders this season (the latter based on investment over the summer rather than performances over previous season), but Barnsley will have the aim that all newly-promoted teams do: survival.
Whilst I’m a firm believer at not looking at a league table until a season is 10-games old, it’s too hard to resist. We’re level on points with Barnsley, who I’m sure will be pretty happy with their haul after three games this season.
It’s the sort of game we struggled in last season. I can’t decide if Pep will stick to the same starting 11 and use the 4-4-1-1 formation we’ve used against Bristol City and Nottingham Forest, or if he’ll try to rectify the dearth of chances and start Gimenez up front with perhaps a diamond midfield of Sunjic at the base, Villalba and Gardner on the sides, and Crowley at the tip. Or, of course, something completely different.
Either way, our last four league home matches have been score draws, and I can see a good chance of this happening again on Tuesday night.
Imperatively, the defence needs improving, and it would be ideal if we could get our second clean of the season. The pessimist in me wouldn’t be too disheartened by a 0-0, but if we could get a nice early goal to lure Barnsley out a little, then really go for the kill, we’d be on seven points from a possible 12 – not bad for a team in transition.
Alternatively, if we fail to break them down and Barnsley nick a goal, Pep will soon learn whether the baying crowd are willing to give him the time he wants.